Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Go To Provence!

Do it! Go to Provence. It was even better than I expected! Here's what I loved.
  1. Hiking the Calanques
  2. Visiting Pont Du Gard
  3. Hiking Cap Canaille
  4. Taking the Train to Maison Auzet bakery
  5. Touring the Clos Sainte Magdaleine winery
  6. Eating at Fou de Fafa
  7. Relaxing on the Pont D’Avignon
  8. Tasting wines around Avignon: Tavel Rosé and Chateauneuf-du-Pape
  9. Dining on the beach at the Grand Large restaurant
  10. Eating candied fruit

1. Calanques

Is that really a trail? Will I survive? I was looking at a windy path of scree - jagged shards of limestone - leading down to the promise of a hidden beach far below. As long as I didn't lose my footing and slide down the entire slope on my backside.

I was on a five-hour round-trip hike to see the three closest Calanques. And have a picnic lunch on the beach, complete with rosé wine and a desert pastry. For the sake of the wine I would have to make it to the bottom.

The Calanques are basically French fjords. They were carved by glaciers. They’re majestic and amazing.

You can also see them by boat. I went on a two-hour ride to all nine of them. I took about 400 photos. Maybe I'll have them sorted in five years.

2. Pont Du Gard

We arrived at Pont Du Gard in the late afternoon. It's amazing engineering. But the sun was on the wrong side. The backlight was ruining my photos!

Then I found a trailhead that looked like it might lead to the other side. It was more like a stone staircase than a trail. After climbing 106 steps - but who's counting - I reached a view of the sand-brown structure turned golden by the dropping sun. I just sat up there for several minutes soaking in the view and marveling at the beauty of it all.

Located near Avignon, this huge bridge was built with an aqueduct on top to get water to Nimes. One story says Nimes was outgrowing its own water supply. Another story is that the Romans just wanted to show off their engineering chops. All I know is it looks amazing.

3. Cap Canaille

This 1300 foot cliff pretty much photo-bombed every picture we took. Photo of the port - there's Cap Canaille. Photo of the vineyard - there's Cap Canaille. Photo of a glass of rosé - there's Cap Canaille.  (The Eiffel Tower did the same thing last year when we were in Paris.)

The best part? There's a trail along the top. Just a three-hour round-trip hike from the hotel. I took about 500 photos of the turquoise water below. Add them to the list to sort through.

4. Maison Auzet Bakery

See that chocolate?! We took a half-hour train ride just to visit this bakery. And it was worth it!

That and a ten-minute walk yielded a shrine of deliciousness, calories, and tooth decay. Croissants, chocolate-and-cream pastries, baked strawberry meringue the size of a football, and frosted cake on a stick.

Did you hear me? Cake! On a Stick!

5. Clos Sainte Magdaleine Winery

It’s a tough life running a winery right on the shore of the mediterranean ocean. They sure make it look easy. Justine explained the entire wine-making process from start to finish, first in beautiful French, then with charmingly accented English. I’ll take two bottles.

Look! Cap Canaille in the background!

6. Fou de Fafa

"...and I recommend Fou de Fafa..." 

What? That's the name of a hilarious episode of Flight of The Conchords where they sing in French. 

"Yes, they named the restaurant after the video." 

Sold! We were going. And we weren't disappointed. The food was delicious. We had Kirs as aperitifs, a paté amuse-bouche, Calamari appetizer, duck and grilled salmon for the main course. And a bottle of wine.

7. Pont D'Avignon

This bridge was more useful before it got washed out back in the 1700s. Now it’s good for admiring the scenery and enjoying a cool breeze. I had fun looking for different photo angles.

Oh, and it has its own song

8. Tavel and Chateauneuf-du-Pape

The best known appellation of rosé in provence is Tavel. I sampled my first Tavel at a winery called Le Mordorée. The guide was very friendly. Not at all snobby. 

Next we went to the Brotte winery to taste their Chateauneuf-du-Pape. They sent us on a self-guided tour about the Côtes du Rhône region and the wine-making process. We convinced our guide to let us taste the “Vieux Marc” - it's a spirit distilled from the grape skins left over from the wine-making process. 

That's when a winery guide came over and gave us the full-snob experience. “Wine tasting is not wine drinking. You are not there to have fun and laugh and joke. Tasting is a serious business. You are there to learn about the qualities of the wine, to experience all its attributes, to become one with the wine. Later there will be time for wine drinking, but not now.” OK - he has a point.

9. Le Grand Large

I thought this restaurant was named "The Big Big". That's silly. Turns out it means "The Open Seas". That makes more sense. (Because it's right on the beach.)

The view was great as the sun was setting behind the calanques. I liked my baked chèvre salad. The duck-kebab was so-so. You definitely pay for the view more than anything else.

10. Délices ("Delights")

I found all kinds of goodies in Provence. I loved the candied fruit. It’s like they took whole strawberries, clementines, and pears and force-fed them sugar until they became candy. Peel, seeds, and all. They also have chocolate-covered almonds which deserve 5 michelin stars of their own.

Here’s what I ate on the trip: Croque Monsieur (grilled cheese with ham), Crêpes, Mussels with Fries, Salade Niçoise, brie with salami and olive tapenade on french bread, anchovy pizza, oysters and clams on the half shell, snails, gelato, almond and honey pastry edged in chocolate. Not to mention the Pastis, Kir Royal, Cassis white wine, Tavel rose, and belgian beer.